10 things I wish I'd known when I started Industrial Design at uni.
I found first year much harder than second year. Not only did we have the crushing workload, and relentless deadlines, but we also had to learn how to produce the work. Everything you do takes longer, because you constantly have to stop and Google how to do it. Looking back, there are a few things I wish someone had told me when starting out. These are some of those things, plus a bit of my work ethic.
10. A3 sketch pads are a pain.
They tell you need to do all your sketches on A3 pads. This is an unnecessary inconvenience, as you end up either dog-earing all the corners of your sketches, or looking like a mug with some cheap-looking A3 folio, that falls apart after a term. A3 sketches require A3 scanners, which are hard to come by at my uni, and expensive to buy. Get a manila wallet, and use the uni printer paper. The only exception is when you have to present your work, where it may be worth investing in an A3 inkjet printer (I use the Epson 1500W, which is amazing, but the ink costs a fortune).
9. Your choice of pen is more important than you think.
You’ll be asked to use a biro or a fineliner for some drawing assignment. Use them for the assignment, but don’t just stick with them for the rest of your life because some tutor likes that style of drawing. It’s incredibly useful to buy a load of different pens and pencils, and force yourself to use each one for 10 sheets, then see what works. Do this as early as possible, so you don’t get frustrated by not being able to sketch as well as your mates. I used a fineliner for a whole term, and thought I couldn’t draw. While your sketching technique will always improve with time, it may be that it takes a change of tool to force yourself to change or improve your technique.
I turned to the internet to watch sketch tutorials, and saw the variety of sketching tools available, and decided to try some different pens. At a risk of sounding like Alan Partridge (@AccidentalP), I tried a regular Staedtler HB pencil, a 0.5 mm mechanical pencil, a KOH-I-NOOR Progresso graphite pencil, a Faber-Castell Polychromos soft blue pencil, a soft red pencil, 0.5 mm Pentel blue and red leads in a mechanical pencil, a thin biro, and a medium biro, in addition to a variety of different brands and thicknesses of fineliners. I, personally, really like drawing with a soft blue pencil, but find it a pain to keep sharpening them. In a busy week, I’ll go through the best part of a whole pencil just from sketching lots. That’s why I tried blue lead for my mechanical pencil (I use both a Rotring 600, and a Pentel GraphGear 1000).
The thin blue lead tends to make you draw in a tighter, more controlled way, with less arm movement, while the soft blue pencil lends itself to big arm movements, which I find really expressive, and helps when you’ve got lots of sketches to do before a deadline, as the looser your sketches are, the quicker they are to produce. Don’t worry about getting “that ID sketching style” because when you apply a job, each consultancy will have a house style anyway, and you’ll have to change yours. I took the same sketches to a number of different interviews, and some people hated them, while others loved them. There’s no point going for a certain style, as you’ll never please everybody. Just push yourself to improve, and make sure your sketches communicate your concepts effectively.
8. Don’t wait to learn something because they don’t teach it until next year.
Many courses won’t teach you how to use Adobe Illustrator, Rhino or Solidworks until later on, because they want you to focus on generating ideas through sketching. While I agree to a certain extent, there’s no point struggling to communicate your idea with sketches you’re not happy with. If you’re yet to find the perfect pencil, try learning to make infographics in Illustrator, or use Rhino to create 3D models. There’s loads of free stuff on the internet to teach yourself these things. By having a variety of tools to communicate your idea, getting stuck is no longer an issue. If sketching isn’t going well one night, design a user experience flow in Illustrator, or make a quick Photoshop render.
7. Use your tutors for creative direction, YouTube for specific skills.
Lecturers and tutors are great for advice on your projects, and by all means listen to them, as they can help you with the briefs, because they set them, and they mark them. However, they’re not great for learning new skills like product design sketching, Adobe Illustrator or CAD software, which I found to be the hardest thing about first year, having not done Design Technology A-Level at school. Look online for tutorials on sketching, Photoshop, Illustrator, Rhino and Solidworks. It’s all out there, for free. Learning CAD is incredibly frustrating at first, as you’ll hit a lot of brick walls. If you can’t do what you want with a certain command that a tutorial uses, you’ll have to do it a different way. The strange order in which you make CAD models can’t be taught, only learnt from experience. This is part of the reason they might not bother teaching CAD very well at uni.
6. Use InDesign for your presentation boards.
Photoshop is a great tool for doing renders, editing sketches, tweaking photos. However, it’s useless for putting together boards. They always end up either pixellated, or as massive files that crash your computer. Images don’t align nicely, text is tricky to edit and you can’t make a multiple page document. InDesign, on the other hand, allows you to make a master page, and have elements consistent on all boards. It will also link to the original files, so when you update that sketch sheet that looked a bit empty, it will change automatically in InDesign.
5. Cough up for markers, don’t sniff them.
I struggled with ProMarkers for a whole year before buying some Copic Ciaos. ProMarkers have very little variety in tonal range, whereas Copics have both a chisel tip and a brush tip, which you can use very lightly to get different shades. Don’t be a mug like me and buy a set of 40 random colours (who even uses lilac?); start with four cool greys C-7, C-5, C-3, C-1 and a black. Then buy a few colours you like/need. Just make sure you get them in the same range, so they blend nicely.
4. Help other people, and they’ll help you.
If you spend a bit of time helping other people with their projects, the chances are, they’ll help you another time. Nobody is good at everything, but chances are you’ll know something that others don’t. Learning from friends is a lot more fun than learning from YouTube.
3. Be ambitious.
Fortune sides with him who dares. - Virgil
Don’t worry about not knowing how to do something, or not having enough time. Set yourself a target of deliverables that exceed the requirements of the brief. By doing this, you put yourself in a position where you have to learn new skills very quickly, which make you a better designer.
The brief for the 2014 Lexus Design Award was a single word, “curiosity”. I was really stuck for an idea about three days before the deadline. I knew that one idea was awful, vaguely being based around the premise that you are most creative after two pints of beer. I also knew I couldn’t communicate my other idea properly without a working model, and a video. Knowing there was still a chance the model wouldn’t work in time, I had to either play it safe with my other idea, or find another way of communicating my good idea. In three horrendously boring days, I sat, glued to my computer, and taught myself Adobe After Effects, having never previously animated anything in my life. Each second of final footage took about an hour to produce. The resulting animation was incredibly basic, looking like some sort of 90s educational video you watched in physics lessons on VHS, but it was the best way to get across the concept. It ended up getting shortlisted in the competition. I took a risk by choosing to develop the more difficult concept, and it paid off.
2. Be open-minded.
Don’t pigeon-hole yourself as being crap at modelmaking; the best way to approach a project is to be ambitious and open. We’ve all sat in teams where somebody says, “I can’t do CAD.”. I definitely said “I can’t make models” a few times. That sort of attitude is natural, but if you take on some new tasks, along with what you’re good at, you’ll learn more.
1. Have fun!
The learning curve on any Industrial Design course is steep, but know this:
Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life. - Confucius